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Building On What Works to Lift Illinois Families Out of Poverty

PHOTO: A new report finds low-income families can be strengthened by policies that give both parents and children opportunities to succeed together. Photo credit: M. Kuhlman.
PHOTO: A new report finds low-income families can be strengthened by policies that give both parents and children opportunities to succeed together. Photo credit: M. Kuhlman.
November 12, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - A new report recommends a "two-generation" approach to break the cycle of poverty.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation report, programs and policies that address the educational and economic needs of both parents and children can help low-income families thrive. Larry Joseph, research director for Voices for Illinois Children, said the report emphasizes using current programs to provide parents and children pathways to financial stability, "including early childhood programs, income support programs, employment and training programs.

"Use existing programs as platforms for innovation," he said, "and to build on what works to expand opportunities."

Joseph said high-quality early education provides lifelong benefits for children, but too few have access to it in Illinois.

The report also shows how programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Earned Income Tax Credit are tools that can lift families out of poverty. There are calls to increase the state EITC in Illinois to 20 percent of the federal credit; it's currently only 10 percent.

Joseph said just raising the state minimum wage would benefit more than 580,000 Illinois children whose parents receive an hourly wage. He added that it's more than a matter of take-home pay.

"They often are in jobs that have no fringe benefits, that have unpredictable schedules, that don't provide paid sick days," he said. "Addressing all of those things that relate to the conditions of low-wage work would be helpful."

Patrice Cromwell, director of strategic initiatives for the Casey Foundation, said the two-generation approach is based on research that shows beneficial outcomes for children when parents have more economic opportunity for themselves and their families.

"So, if we can help families become more stable," she said, "it leads to lower family stress and increases the opportunity for stronger parent-child relationships."

According to the report, more than 20 percent of Illinois families with young children have incomes below the federal poverty level and more than 40 percent are considered low-income.

The report, "Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach," is online at AECF.org.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL